WE are now, it appears, in the middle of a recession, if “middle” can be translated as “three or four days into”. Perhaps it’s economic jargon.
It took the ESRI until last Tuesday to point out that we’re in the recession (should we say, recessionised? in recess? just plain receding?), but then pointy-headed economists are masters of stating the obvious.
If anyone out there can find any of them on the record predicting the start of the boom, rather than the end of it, I’ll present you with a framed copy of my 1986 dole card.
Sports fans have been aware of that slowdown manifesting in various ways for some time. Only last Monday our esteemed hurling columnist Tony Considine pointed out that if Clare and Limerick had met in the mid-90s, then Semple Stadium would have been jammed to the rafters rather than accommodating — in some space and comfort — the 28,603 who made it to Thurles.
But while we’re slow to contradict Tony on any issue, it’s worth pointing out that the mid-90s spike in attendance was out of character. The combination of novel pairings and supporters affluence meant a sharp increase in crowds compared with the previous decade, when 10,000 spectators would have been a respectable total for the less glamorous pairings in the provincial series.
In some ways the GAA is a victim of its own innovation. The qualifier system has had its share of detractors when it comes to managing local fixtures, but it’s brought something new to the national scene, helping counties which had spent decades out of the limelight to take their bow in Croke park.
However, if there is a recession grinding into view, then it’s only natural that people will look at non-essential expenditure as the first place to cut back; that means picking and choosing the games they go to.
Or rather, the games at which they choose to spend upwards of €300 for one day out.
The implications go further than the GAA world. If a slowdown in the world economy means fewer drunken stag groups staggering around the country asking where the totty is, then that could be construed as a silver lining.
But a squeeze in spending has implications for every sports organisation. Given the crossover in constituencies between GAA and Munster rugby supporters, it’ll be interesting to see if fans of Tony McGahan’s side — nearly said Declan Kidney there — pick and choose their outings in the autumn and spring.
Indeed, if you wanted to be downright apocalyptic about it, the broad trends in sport are more frightening than the rising price of oil, or the sub-prime lending crisis in the US. Participation in sport during a recession, for instance, is likely to reduce further, and the basis for that theory comes from evidence gathered during the boom.
The previous big ESRI report was May’s “Sporting Lives: An Analysis of a Lifetime of Irish Sport”; some people obsessed with its findings on GAA participation, though the report stated it was relatively steady.
They missed the small print, however. One sports activity grew 12% per annum from 1994 to 2003, according to the report; another activity grew 7% per year. Those were aerobic exercise/keeping fit and jogging, respectively.
Amazingly, the report added that 76% of all adult sport activity in the country is individual rather than team-based, such as golf, jogging, swimming and cycling. The last three aren’t organised competitively for the most part, and obviously golf can be enjoyed without ever entering a tournament. Of course, apart from golf, what jogging, swimming and cycling have in common is they’re cheap. If there’s a recession and your sporting participation costs the same as a pair of runners... well, you don’t have to be an economist to work that out, do you?
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